The Boeing 777 vs 787 – What Plane Is Better?

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner has been a revolutionary aircraft. It has allowed super cheap long haul carriers to exist and insanely long routes to open.

But few remember which aircrafts thunder the 787 stole: The Boeing 777 family had long been the workhorse of the airline industry, and before the arrival of the Dreamliner it was thought to have its future guaranteed.

Now with the 787 able to easily perform many of the routes the 777 was designed for, many airlines have either upgraded or simply resigned to await the 777X’s arrival later this year. But was it too soon? Is the Boeing 787 actually better than the Boeing 777? Let’s find out.

777
Boeing 787 (top) vs Boeing 777 (Bottom). Source: Simple Flying

Naturally, the 787 was not initially designed to be a competitor to the 777. It would be crazy for Boeing to design a new plane that would compete with its own aircraft, but we can look at the comparison from an airline point of view to see which is best and most cost effective.

Boeing 777 vs Boeing 787

A great way to understand how these two families of aircraft compare, is to begin with a top-down look. Below is a table of the aircraft, ranked by how many passengers they carry configured in two classes.

TypeLengthSpanPassengers (2-class)Passengers (Max)RangeList price
787-856.69 m60.17 m2423567,355 nmUS$239.0M
787-963 m60.17 m2904067,635 nmUS$281.6M
777-20063.73 m60.93 m3134405,240 nmiUS$261.5 M
777-200ER63.73 m60.93 m3134407,065 nmiUS$306.6M
777-200LR63.73 m64.80 m3174408,555 nmiUS$346.9M
787-1068.27 m60.17 m3304406,430 nmUS$325.8M
777-30073.8660.93 m3965506,030 nmiUS$361.5M
777-300ER73.8664.80 m3965507,370 nmiUS$375.5M

As we can see above, the two smaller 787’s only beat out the 777s in terms of range. However, the 787-10 comes into its own against the 777 family, and will be the main aircraft we will be comparing.

Passengers

The Boeing 777 series is a bigger plane than the 787 and thus is able to carry more passengers. The 787-10 is actually more effective than the 777-200 series but is beaten by the 777-300 by around 66 passengers. This is a significant number and can’t be argued.

Winner: 777

Qatar Airways Boeing 777-200LR
Qatar Airways currently has 25 Boeing 777-200 aircraft in its fleet. Photo: Wikimedia.

Range

This is a bit more complicated. The 787 beats the 777-300 in range, but the smaller, lighter 777-200s and special extended-range versions of the 777 (777-300ER and 777-200LR) can fly circles around the Dreamliner.

Winner: 777

List Price

But is the better passenger capacity and range worth an extra $50 million dollars (787-10 vs 777-300ER)? It seems that the 787 is cheaper to deploy than nearly every variant of the 777. Will those extra passengers actually translate into at least $50 million dollars worth of revenue over the lifetime of the aircraft?

That’s a risk many airlines will not want to take. We should also take a second to point out that many airlines don’t actually pay list price, but around 50%.

Winner: 787

United Airlines 787 in flight. Photo: United

Fuel Efficiency

There is an area that we have yet to touch on, and that is fuel efficiency. The 777 series is far older than the 787 and uses construction materials that are heavier. This means that a 787 can not only fly further on less fuel, but is far more efficient on the same routes.

Fuel
Source: Wikipedia

Looking at the above graph we can see that the Boeing 787-9 is incredibly fuel efficient when compared to any of the 777 series. It is without a doubt that the same can be said for the 787-10.

Winner: 787

At first it looks like the 777 is a slam dunk, but when the 787 is cheaper to buy and operate it slowly becomes a much easier financial decision. This VS article did not take into account issues with the engines on the 787, nor the improved flight experience for passengers on the new plane. An airline with the new 787 would be able to outperform an older 777 fleet any day of the week if it was down to customer comforts.

What about the Boeing 777x vs the Dreamliner?

If you want to know if the next generation of aircraft from Boeing beats the 787, then we suggest having a look at this article where we go into details on the pros and cons of each.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below. 

3 comments
  1. Loved reading this!

    United is so smart for Investing so heavily into the 787 programs. Hope it places a 787-8 order to replace its aging 757/767s.

    Still don’t understand why Delta ever canceled their 787 order. They should have just switched it to the 787-9

    1. True but have you considered the maintenance costs on the 787? The composite material is far far more expensive to maintain and repair and requires more ground time, and very complex and detailed methods to detect damages as composite damages don’t appear on the surface in many cases after impact. The systems on the 787 are quite complex such as the PECS and ICS and require specialized equipment to service and have already given headaches to airlines. Boeing’s intended designs in cargo airconditioning and heating systems, some hydraulics logics, and even water waste systems didn’t work out as intended and has made for increased ground times, lots of component replacements and naturally much higher maintenance costs. The independent airconditioning systems due to the bleedless engines and the electric common motor starters demand so much power that is already an issue at many airports hence the APU is usually required to be run. For example on ground with two external powers only one Cabin Air compressor from a single pack can be operated and that too if there are no other heavy demands, only one hydraulic system pump can be operated that too if the airconditioning system is load shed. The load shedding logic can easily cause the passenger cabin to be in complete darkness if systems are relying only on ground power. Three external ground power units are required to start an engine. The solution- run the APU on ground and burn fuel. The GEnX engine was expected to be on wing for at least 15000 hours but lighter materials caused engine removals at around 3000 hours…now modifications are being done – ask KLM for example. RR engines are the nightmare, countless groundings reported and countless not reported. Gulf Air’s B787 fleet of 6 has already seen multiple groundings due to frequent engine changes, and now the latest ADs require one engine to be replaced within 1000 hours and borescope every 500 hours, or combined 1600 hours on both engines on an aircraft maximum. Airlines have to resort to swapping engines on and putting two engines with lower hours on one aircraft and grounding the other till engines are available- which are not due to immense shortage due to failed RR engine borescopes.

      When you do the maths – the 777 , a generation older, still comes out on top by far. The 787 is still a tough match due to fuel efficiency but loses big time on operational reliability. Having said that, it still does a better job on fuel economy than the A350.

      Also I believe there is error on Wikipedia’s info if noted correctly in the graph. The 777-2ER is still nowhere below the airline average fuel efficiency standard, it is still far more fuel efficient per pax seat km/kg of fuel than the industry standard and certainly much more efficient than the B767-300 which sits on the positive end of the graph. Similarly the B747-400ER is more efficient on long haul than the B747-400 and there’s not a significant difference between them that the 747-4ER is right at the bottom. Ask Qantas – they operate both and with different engines. Again the 747-8 with an all new wing and engines notably outperforms the 747-400 yet in the graph they’re almost together… even the -8 is above the airline average.

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